Administration Middle East policy: clever, desperate or just clueless?

 I confess: after interviewing a lot of experts and reading countless news reports for this week’s story, I still don’t have a clue what the Obama administration’s new Middle East strategy really is.

Is the offer of a lucrative package of incentives for Israel, including F-35 warplanes, a sign of simple desperation, as the Washington Post argues in today’s editorial? 

Or does the administration have something up its sleeve – a plan to give the parties a chance to talk about borders for a while, maybe, and then, when they can’t come to an agreement, offer some bridging proposals – along with the threat that both sides will pay a price if they don’t accept them and move forward toward a final status agreement?

Or are they just naive, believing that if they bribe the parties back to the table, goodwill will prevail and they will find a way to work out an agreement?

In its editorial, the Post writes that “administration officials appear to hope that in 90 days the territory of the new state can be mostly delineated, rendering the settlement issue moot – or that the talks will at least gain enough momentum that neither side will wish to break them off.”

Really? Do they honestly believe Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is ready for direct give-and-take with the Israelis, when all he’s done since the Obama administration came to town is press for Washington to deliver what he wants?

Do they really think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to give an inch on Jerusalem – an issue it’s almost impossible to sidestep when you’re talking about borders, settlement blocks and the like? Or Ariel, the big West Bank settlement the Palestinians believe would make a viable Palestinian state impossible?

What we don’t know: did the administration get some private assurances from Netanyahu during his seven hour meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?

Given Netanyahu’s history as a wily, tough negotiator and the administration’s history for diplomatic blundering and confusion, I’m guessing not.

I hope I’m wrong, but what this looks like is something between the “desperation” theory suggested by the Post and the “strategy-less” approach to the Middle East suggested by former State Department official and U.S. peace processor Aaron David Miller in an interview yesterday.

Not an encouraging scenario – unless you think the current stalemate is good.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.